MOBILE, Ala. -- For Michael Williams, the outlook on his NFL future is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the former Alabama tight end is likely to have a home at the next level because of his ability to block. On the other hand, he could find himself struggling to stand out much because of his relative lack of production in the passing game.
Williams caught just 24 passes for 183 yards and four touchdowns this past season. His fellow tight ends on the South roster of the Senior Bowl bested those numbers. Former Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera caught 36 passes for 562 yards in two fewer games. Former Rice standout Vance McDonald had nearly identical stats through 12 games: 36 receptions for 458 yards.
Alabama coach Nick Saban conceded that Williams has the chance to be a "good blocker" and "role player" at the next level. He noted that Williams has good hands and said, "I think there's a place for guys like Michael Williams" in the NFL.
"He's going to do a good job blocking for you every time he's in," Saban said Monday in Mobile, Ala.
But Williams isn't content with the "blocking tight end" label. The No. 11-ranked tight end according to Scouts Inc. wants to be known as a pass-catcher, too. He talked before the start of last season about modeling his game after NFL greats Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, and said what he accomplished his senior year was only the start of where he wanted to go, adding that he's looking forward to what he called a "24-hour interview" at the Senior Bowl to show he can take that part of his game to another level.
"I need to show these teams that I can move down the field, I can get open," Williams said. "... I know it's the biggest question mark for me, I just have to show it."
Tight ends coach Bobby Johnson of the Detroit Lions said he's been pleased with what he's seen of Williams so far. He raved about Williams' size at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, and his attention to detail, a compliment many Alabama players have received from their position coaches in Mobile.
"I tell you what, he's a big old body for a tight end," Johnson said. "He's an impressive looking physical specimen. I've been really impressive with how attentive he was in the meetings. He was locked in, he was loaded. He had some good questions. It looked like he had some good carryover. We threw a lot of information at him and he seemed to carry it over pretty well."
Johnson said that blocking will likely be Williams niche in the NFL until he can learn to stretch the field vertically. Williams struggled at times during Tuesday's practice getting separation from the linebacker or safety. He's just enough of a pass-catching threat to make the defense pay attention, but not quite enough to make them scared.
"I think [blocking] is going to have to be his niche because he is a big-bodied kid that would obviously create some good advantage in the run game if you have the tight end block someone one-on-one and take the defensive end out of the game," Johnson explained. "That's probably going to be his niche, but he looked like he showed some skills in the short to intermediate routes.
"He's not going to be a run-and-catch guy, maybe, but he can always develop. If he learns his strengths and plays to his strengths you can always get savvy in the pass game and be functional."